SharePoint & Microsoft Resources

University of Leeds: Transforming Communication with SharePoint


University of Leeds


Higher Education


9,000+ Employees


Internal Communications


SharePoint, Beacon, MyTools, Viva Engage

University of Leeds: Transforming Communication with SharePoint

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The Challenge

The University of Leeds is one the UK’s largest universities, with over 9,000 staff and 39,000 students. Ranked in the top 75 universities in the world, University of Leeds prides itself on its desire to make a difference in the world.

‘Universal Values, Global Change’ is the University strategy for 2020 to 2030. Digital transformation is a core component of the strategy, with an aim to use technology to improve ways of working.

As part of the digital transformation, the Internal Communications team commissioned an external review of their communications channel mix. The review highlighted several issues with the comms channel landscape, which included a public facing website, other public channels like X (Twitter), and a sprawl of ungoverned SharePoint sites.

The University identified a need to consolidate their channels into one dedicated internal communications platform with an improved, consistent user experience. So, they approached Silicon Reef to help deliver their vision for a new intranet;

An employee-centric channel for relevant tools, resources and expertise that provides employees with the information they need to do their jobs, empowers them to perform at their best, fosters connection across the University and helps all employees understand how they can contribute to the University’s strategic objectives.

The Solution

The University of Leeds already had access to Microsoft 365, but the tools weren’t being maximised for internal comms. The University agreed a SharePoint-based solution represented best value for money. Plus, a SharePoint foundation would allow the University to layer on other collaboration and communication tools, like Viva Engage.

The goal was to reach MVP status, and prepare the University for the future with a solid platform from which to build. We helped University of Leeds design and build a modern intranet using SharePoint Online and our SharePoint add-on tools, Beacon and MyTools.

University of Leeds intranet homepage in SharePoint

Before starting the build, we ran a series of in-person and virtual workshops, focus groups and surveys with employees from across the University. We validated and expanded the findings from the channel audit, and uncovered the pain points the new intranet needed to solve.

Running in-person activities helped us really get to know the University and its employees, and generated excitement and buy-in around the new intranet.

We provided detailed recommendations based on the University’s unique needs, which helped us craft a new intranet that connected, informed and inspired employees.


Single Source of Truth

Consolidating multiple internal comms channels into one was the core driver of the intranet project.

Using public facing channels made it difficult for internal comms to communicate freely with employees, with the information available for the whole world to see. Many employees were relying on e-mail, e-news and word of mouth – only 38% used the existing ‘For Staff’ and SharePoint sites for updates.

The new intranet is a centralised hub that is the home of internal comms. Employees now have one channel that can be relied upon to provide them with news and announcements, important information and updates from around the University.

We live in an information age: in today’s world, the ability to quickly handle and share information is essential for our everyday lives. This is particularly relevant in a university environment where knowledge exchange is core to what we do.

Our new intranet is essential to the University’s strategy, our community and our progression. For the first time, staff have a dedicated channel of news and information.

Chris Hewitt

Head of Internal Communications

Example showing personalised access to company tools in SharePoint

Easy Access to Personalised Tools

Finding links to other work-related platforms and tools was the number one reason employees visited the old ‘For Staff’ site. But, it was a poor user experience. The old staff website had a long list of text links to other platforms, making it hard for individuals to find the ones important to them.

Using our product MyTools, employees can now curate a personalised view of the tools and apps that matter to them. Employees can access their tools from anywhere on the intranet in just a few clicks.

As well as better personalisation, MyTools will save employees time and deliver a better user experience

Easy Access to Information & Policies

Being able to easily access important information, like HR policies, was the second most common reason employees visited the ‘For Staff’ area. However, employees reported that having policies in PDF format was inaccessible, especially for those relying on mobile devices.

We built a new Policy Hub which brings the content of each policy directly onto the SharePoint page, without having to download a PDF. The new Policy Hub acts as a jumping off point to easily find different policies from across the University, and offers a much more accessible experience for employees across all devices.

Policy hub in SharePoint

Consistent, Engaging Branding

The University did have some existing SharePoint sites, but the experience was disjointed. The internal comms team at the University had a good idea of how they wanted their new intranet to look, but it wasn’t possible with SharePoint’s out-of-the-box features. We used our SharePoint design tool Beacon to give the University of Leeds a consistent, on-brand design across all their sites.

Beacon allows site owners to easily deploy new sites that follow brand guidelines within bespoke template designs.

Plus, content owners can choose from a wider range of layouts to present content like news and FAQs in a more engaging way.

Highly Searchable

Not being able to easily find content was a big blocker for employees. With content split across multiple channels, people couldn’t easily find the information they needed. Existing search functionality offered a poor experience, with employees being served irrelevant and outdated results.

Only 24% of employees said they could easily find the information they needed to do their job, yet 94% said it was extremely important.

By bringing everything under one roof, we were able to make content and information from across the University easy to find with SharePoint’s comprehensive search functionality.

We ensured documents and files were stored and labelled in a logical, search-friendly manner. By following SharePoint best practices in information architecture and folder structure we created a system that will allow University of Leeds to maintain a clean, tidy and easy-to-search platform.

Improved Governance & Ownership

Outdated content was another barrier to trust in the old intranet system. But, finding who owned each site or piece of content was a challenge.

As part of the University’s bespoke page design template, we included a Content Owner label. This means everyone has visibility into who is responsible for maintaining and updating each site.

Easy to Maintain

As with many IT teams, the technical team at University of Leeds are time poor and responsible for lots of different IT systems. There was concern amongst the team about being responsible for looking after a platform they were not experts in.

We provided training to the in-house IT team and helped upskill them with their SharePoint knowledge. We also built the new intranet in a way that requires limited technical know-how and is easy to manage, limiting the time required to maintain the site.

Trialling Viva Engage

One of the University’s core goals was to provide a solid foundation that would enable additional tools to be integrated in the future – like Viva Engage.

Previously Yammer, Viva Engage was used across pockets of the University but there was no consistency or overarching strategy.
As part of the intranet project, we helped set up a Viva Engage community for intranet content owners. This became a shared space for 100+ employees to share best practices and ask for help. Many employees shared how valuable the community had become, and hoped it would continue past the launch of the new intranet.

By encouraging employees to use tools like Viva Engage as part of the intranet build, we were able to demonstrate its value and provide some best practices and examples of how it could expand across the University in the future.

It was a pleasure to work with Silicon Reef. To have their knowledge and expertise in developing a user-centred intranet using SharePoint was critical to our success. Embedding Silicon Reef’s Beacon software to lift the out-of-the-box features and the My Tools app to give users a choice of business applications to choose from have been an unexpected and very welcome bonus.

Chris Hewitt

Head of Internal Communications

The Impact

We conducted a pre and post launch survey with staff at the University of Leeds. This helped us shape the areas of the intranet that needed most attention, and gave us some fantastic insights into the positive difference we’ve made.


increase on pre-launch

“The tools and information I need to do my job are accessible from one central location.”


increase on pre-launch

“I can quickly and easily find the tools and systems I need to do my job.”


increase on pre-launch

“It is intuitive and easy to use.”


increase on pre-launch

“It reflects our brand and looks aesthetically pleasing.”


increase on pre-launch

“Content is kept up to date.”

Simple to use, quick to browse, has a very vibrant news-focused homepage and is well-presented throughout. Looks as though most information I need is on one platform for the first time…ever!

Staff Member

School of English

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